Amsterdam has a reputation that precedes it.
The whiff of a familiar sweet smoke and the sight of the city’s Sex Museum all greeted me within my first five minutes after getting off the airport shuttle and walking down the Damrak in the city centre.
Yep, seems some things never change and the city seems to still deserve at least some of its reputation as a haven of debauchery. Fortunately, though, it’s also a whole lot more.
Only an hour’s flight from Scotland, and smaller than Paris or Berlin, it’s ideally placed for a weekend break.
The city made its riches and reputation in the 17th Century when Holland became the centre of a booming trade to the Far East, and this period is considered the “Golden Age” of Dutch art and architecture.
To get an intimate view of the treasures of this period, head to the Museum Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis. Built in 1687 for a wealthy merchant family, it now displays how the city’s great and good would have lived when Amsterdam was in its pomp. Book ahead to reserve a seat for concerts played on antique instruments.
And for art, you’re spoilt for choice. The newly refurbished Rijksmuseum contains, unsurprisingly, the world’s finest collection of Dutch masters, including Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch and the other canvases he painted of the city’s militia in the 1640s, as well as floors dedicated to different periods of European art.
If you enjoy fine art, you can easily spend the best part of a day here. It is one of the world’s great galleries and reason enough to visit Amsterdam.
The city centre’s two main churches, the Oude Kerk and Nieuwe Kerk, are both worth a look. The former was built in the 13th Century and is the city’s oldest remaining structure, whilst the latter was begun in the 15th Century and has been developed at various times since both are remarkable examples of Gothic architecture.
Temporary art exhibitions are now housed in both places, which can make for a slightly surreal experience.
The Anne Frank Huis, a museum of the house where she lived in hiding during the Second World War, is another big attraction for many, but be advised that the queues can be long in busy tourist seasons.
The way to avoid them is to pre-book online at annefrank.org.
Only buy your tickets ahead of time here as some ticket touts buy them in advance and then sell them online for twice their value disgusting to profit from an experience that is as valuable and moving as this, but, sadly, it goes on.
It is worth the wait, though. Most of us have read the book and/or seen the film, and actually seeing the steep, narrow staircase that led up to the garret where the Jewish families hid for so many years brings it all home.
There is a lot of memorabilia, including her diary, and several explanatory films along the museum route.
Expect to spend at least an hour, like the million other visitors who come each year. It’s a very worthwhile visit.
Dutch food is not dissimilar to Scottish a bit on the heavier side, with a tradition of good seafood.
The restuarant In de Waag, in the busy Nieuwmarkt area of the city, serves Dutch cuisine in the fabulous setting of the city market’s old weighing house.
For something a bit different, try one of Amsterdam’s many Rijsttafel restaurants Dutch-Indonesian cuisine that’s hard to find outside of the Netherlands.
It’s always great value and this is the best city to eat it in without going all the way to Indonesia.
The iAmsterdam City Card is a good option if you plan on doing several sights a day it includes entry to most of the city’s museums and attractions, and free use of public transport.
Book ahead before picking it up at the Central Tourist Office in Stationsplein, just outside the train station. Prices are 49 euros for 24 hours, 59 euros for 48 hours and 69 euros for 72 hours.
The NH Amsterdam Doelen on Nieuwe Doelenstraat is a good spot for a short stay it’s both centrally but quietly located, good value and great for a weekend break.
Double rooms at NH Amsterdam Doelen start from 109 euros (approximately £86) per night. To book or for more information visit: www.nh-hotels.com.
EasyJet flies from Edinburgh to Amsterdam up to twice a day with prices starting from £25.99 per person (one-way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking). All flights are available at www.easyjet.com.
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